Seoul — The three-term mayor of South Korea’s sprawling capital city was found dead early Friday morning in mountains north of Seoul. City officials said he left a short “will-like” message apologizing to his family and the Korean people just days after reportedly being accused of sexual misconduct by a former secretary.
Police launched a search for Mayor Park Won-soon early Thursday evening after his daughter reported him missing.
Hundreds of police officers used sniffer dogs and drones in the seven-hour search for Park, focusing on the mountains north of Seoul where his cell phone signal was last detected. His body was found late Thursday night on Mount Bugak. Police have not commented on the cause of his death.
“I’m sorry to everyone. I want to thank all those people who have been there throughout my life. I’m sorry to my family because I’ve only brought you pain,” Park said in the written note found on his desk. He asked for his body to be cremated and the ashes scattered at a family burial plot, concluding simply, “Goodbye, everyone.”
South Korean network SBS said a former secretary who worked with Park starting in 2017 had filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse on July 8. She reportedly accused him of sending lewd phone messages.
Police officials said the nascent case against the late mayor had been closed, as there was now effectively nothing to indict.
Some South Koreans voiced frustration online at the decision not to investigate the allegations, saying there appeared to be reluctance among law enforcement officials to pursue sexual harassment cases.
Before Park Won-soon was elected mayor in 2011, he was a human rights lawyer. He rose to national political prominence in the years since, becoming a popular progressive and even being discussed as a possible presidential candidate.
Last year, he claimed to be a feminist and said he had teared-up reading an international best-selling book that details the struggles women can face in South Korea’s conservative, often sexist society.
City officials announced that a five-day funeral ceremony would be held at a local university hospital, where flowers surrounded a photo of the late mayor and people came to pay their respects on Friday.
A public memorial was also to be held Friday in Seoul City Hall Square.